dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Robert Lindsay sparkles in this jewel of a play
It's rare that you see an actor really become his character but that's just what happens as Robert Lindsay takes on the role of cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Formerly a member of the Hollywood elite who filmed screen icons, in Terry Johnson's play Prism Cardiff is now in his final years, losing his both his mind to dementia and his eyesight.
He's a pitiful figure, shuffling around the garage which his son has filled with his film heyday memorabilia, losing himself between past and present. And yet in Johnson's writing and Lindsay's portrayal he's also glorious – he relives his days of grandeur, he argues feistily with his son and he flirts with his young carer. He's such a multi-faceted character he's hard to grasp but in Lindsay',s hands he's someone you are definitely rooting for.
We see the full cruelty of dementia as Cardiff confuses his son with Arthur Miller and then has lucid moments in which he recognises how his mind is failing him. The irony of a man whose career was built on understanding and using light now losing his sight is also painfully brought to the fore – Cardiff dreads the thought of going blind and we feel that fear. But there's also great humour in the play as Cardiff bounces back answers to his family and proves to be less than compliant to their plans.
It was Lindsay who first shared Cardiff's story with Johnson, who then went on to write the character with Lindsay in mind, which helps to explain how naturally Lindsay takes the role.
Lindsay is given strong support from Tara Fitzgerald as his beleaguered wife Nicola. Unsure how to handle her husband's gradually loosening grip on reality, she tries to support him through his ordeal, holding on to the man she loved – even when he confuses her with Katharine Hepburn.
Victoria Blunt takes the part of Lucy, the carer who has her own backstory of a tragic childhood which has sent her into an adulthood where she has no control. Her life is a clear contrast to that of Cardiff's and yet the two strike up an unlikely friendship.
Oliver Hembrough is son Mason who is keen for his father to relive his past and write his memories but we soon a realise that Mason too is more complex than at first appears as he has his own reasons for capturing his father's life.
Johnson's play was a huge hit when it was first staged at the Hampstead Theatre and it's easy to see why. Prism brings to life an interesting character but does so in a way we can all relate to. Cardiff may have rubbed shoulders with Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart but he's now in a world which so many of us recognise of dementia, confusion and uncertainty.
Written and directed by Johnson and designed by Tim Shortall, the majority of the play takes place in the converted garage although Ian William Galloway's video design brings this set to life in surprising ways. We're also taken to the Congo to relive a moment from the filming of The African Queen and yet the two sets move easily into each other.
Presented by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Hampstead Theatre, Prism has both Lndsay and Cardiff's son Mason as associate producers and it feels like an affectionate homage to a great man. By the close of the two-hour production we feel we've also lived Cardiff's life – through the lens of the camera and through the eyes of the older Cardiff. Johnson has given us a rare jewel of a play and Lindsay is the perfect actor to sparkle in its lead role.